Tips from writers: Maya Angelou

Today I’m bringing to you the second instalment in my series on writing, and as I began with Roald Dahl I wanted to focus on a female writer next. After thinking back and forth I did a little research into Maya Angelou, a writer I had heard of but was quite unfamiliar with. She was a fascinating woman and it didn’t take much to convince me that she would be a great choice for this series, so today the spotlight falls on her.

Happy reading!

Maya Angelou - Poems, Books & Quotes - Biography
Image sourced from Google Images

Author Bio

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a celebrated American author, poet, screenwriter, director and actress. In addition to this she was a civil rights activist with an admirable dedication to the movement that saw her work alongside Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X. Angelou received many awards and honours throughout her lifetime and arguably her most famous work: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings remains an educational tool in schools and universities today.

Writing tips

“You have to want to”

“You can only become great at something you are willing to sacrifice for”

So simple and so true. Writing isn’t easy. Commitment to sacrificing the time and effort to write is harder still. But, if you want to then that’s one battle won.

“Get to a very quiet place inside yourself”

In other words, whatever setting or environment works for you…find it and use it. Angelou used a hotel room, for her it was a place where she could retreat and embrace her creativity. She had certain non-negotiable items with her such as yellow pads, ballpoint pens, a bible and a bottle of sherry. This was the setting where she could find her inner quiet place and write.

“Nothing will work unless you do”

It is not enough to be talented. Hard work is crucial.

“While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated”

Resiliance is so important. So many successful writers experienced knock backs, but perseverance really can pay off in the end.

Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86 ...
Image sourced from Google Images

“All great achievements require time”

As obvious as it may seem this is such an important reminder to stick at it and not give up. The life of a writer can be extremely isolating, but remaining committed is vital, even if it is taking longer than you would perhaps like.

“One’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important”

Angelou’s explanation for this is that if we can edit the obvious errors ourselves then the editor can focus instead on the bigger picture and moulding the writing into the finished product, without any needless distractions.

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart”

Writing without feeling, and without making the reader feel, will only result in a piece that will fall flat and fail to resonate.

Further research

Whilst this is a post all about Angelou as a writer and any tips and advice that she shared, I am fascinated by her and her life in general which I learned a lot about whilst researching this post. Because of this I wanted to share some facts about her here.

  • Her birth name was Marguerite Annie Johnson.
  • She could speak six languages.
  • Arguably her best known work: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was the first non-fiction bestseller by an African American woman.
  • Following a traumatic attack by her mother’s boyfriend when she was a young child which resulted in family members beating him to death Maya spent years as a mute. She believed that by speaking his name she had caused his death, she literally felt as though her voice could kill.
  • She was the first black female cable car conductor.
  • She was a member of The Harlem Writers Guild.
  • Angelou wrote the screenplay for Georgia, Georgia and this was the first time a black woman had done so.
  • She was asked to recite a poem for President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 which she did, making her only the second poet to do so. The first was Robert Frost at JFK’s inauguration in 1961.
  • When questioned as to why she wrote for Hallmark greetings cards she stated that she enjoyed knowing that her words would be read by some people who would never pick up a book.
Dr. Maya Angelou's Life In Pictures - Essence
Image sourced from Google Images

Some relevant quotes

“Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Making a decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake.”

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”

What are your thoughts on Maya Angelou’s tips and advice? Any points that you strongly agree/disagree with? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading, I hope that you enjoyed!

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Until the next time…Jess x

11 thoughts on “Tips from writers: Maya Angelou

  1. Add me… I’d just included ‘ caged bird’ in my thoughts on autobiography/autobiographical writing. โ€œThere is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.โ€
    Did telling the untold story release the writer ?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s on my to read list, I’m really intrigued by it, I know it’s criticised for being too graphic. I’m not sure, I actually wonder the same thing, I hope it does release the writer but I don’t think it would in every case, for Angelou who knows, she seemed very wise and confident but you never know someone’s true feelings.


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